Not too long ago, a strong market position was enough to ensure at least a few years of continued success. But increasingly, start-ups are investing in brand along with product development.
It’s not easy being a market leader, or even an established player, these days. Once upon a time, if you had a dominant market position you could count on holding the lead for years, if not decades. Pesky start-ups might nip at your heels, but it would be years until they had the wherewithal to pose a credible challenge.
No longer. Today, all you need is a good idea (versus an actual track record) to attract serious funding. And increasingly start-ups are using the proceeds from early stage investors not just for product development but for also for brand building. Consider Uber. The company’s app launched in 2010. By the start of 2011 it had raised $49 million in venture funds. A key use of funding: making the Uber brand a ubiquitous presence in an expanding range of geographies. Less than four years later Uber is valued north of $18 billion.
For established players, it’s never been more important to keep one eye on the rearview mirror. But equally critical is keeping their brands fresh and relevant. In fact, a strong brand can be as powerful a defense against upstarts as an established, or even superior, product. Consider how IBM, with its edgy “Smarter Planet” brand, continues to dominate multiple technology segments even as a horde of starts up gallop into their brandscape. GE adapted one of the best-known brands, “We Bring Good Things to Life” into “Imagination at Work;” in this case, the new brand is more streamlined and modern and, equally as important, it signals that the company is not resting on its laurels in an industry teeming with aggressive and disruptive new competitors.
As an increasing number of new companies move from idea to brand at lighting speed, more established players need to counter with brands that connect with audiences who may be less impressed by market share than they are eager to experience the next great thing. This starts with research to understand customer perceptions and needs as well as the changing competitive landscape. Increasingly, it also means understanding the customer journey, from discovery through consideration to decision, and developing content-driven strategies for engaging with them at each stage. Understanding the customer, and providing them with the information they need when they need it, is one of most powerful ways to remain relevant even in the face of innovative new disruptors.
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